WeedMD is unlike most pot producers in Canada

Twitter icon

“This is an industry where you hear stories about people working on next-level things… We’ve stripped it back to the basics,” says Keith Merker, CEO of WeedMD, an Ontario-based licensed producer and distributor of cannabis and cannabis oil. “We are growing lots of cannabis, and very good cannabis. Without cannabis, after all, there is no cannabis industry.”

The GrowthOp recently toured one of WeedMD’s facilities in Strathroy, Ont., where the company is expanding production by converting 25-acre farmland, previously used to grow asparagus, into outdoor grow. Late in March 2019, the company applied to Health Canada for an outdoor licence—joining a growing list of cannabis companies to do so: 48North Cannabis Corp., Aleafia Health Inc. and CannTrust Holdings Inc.

Pending approval, “the company is aiming to propagate and prep over 25,000 live plants with about eight strain varieties. For our own research, we’re aiming for another 20 experimental strains to see how they react to outdoor cultivation,” says Derek Pedro, WeedMD’s chief cannabis officer.

Providing a helping hand central to company culture

Like any other organization in the space, the focus will always remain on who rakes in most of the cannabis cash. After all, quips Merker, “We are operating a business.” But WeedMD is truly Canadian and has remained true to a classic stereotype: the company is really nice.

Helping Canadian licensed producers

Since 2017, the company has provided licensed producers (LPs) from Canada with what is being termed as one of the biggest bottlenecks in the industry: starting genetic material. Available in plant or seed form, genetics material determines what a cannabis plant will end up looking like and being. Explaining why the bottleneck exists, Pedro says, “under the LP system there is supposed to be no new genetics from Apr. 1, 2014 onwards.”

LPs in Canada are legally allowed to grow cannabis. But unlike shopping for a houseplant, one can’t simply stop by the nearest nursery to buy cannabis seeds or plants. Companies, especially the up and coming ones, can only purchase starting material from a legal source.

Unsurprisingly, not many companies are willing to relinquish such material. “For some, it’s a business decision; others don’t have the capability,” says Merker. “But early on we decided that we would make starting material accessible to other LPs in Canada,” he says. Marianella delaBarrera, vice president of communications and corporate affairs for WeedMD, adds, “We have been selling genetics since we received our sales licence in 2017. We carry a unique, industry-leading genetics library and currently have provided to close to 20 percent of Canadian LPs.” 

Helping medical cannabis patients

In mid-2017, the company announced that it would begin “selling cannabis clones to patients registered for home grow under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations.” The company has sold over “12,000 clones so far,” confirms delaBarrera.

Price range starts “at about $185-plus for shipping one to four clones. Depending on how many more are ordered after that, the price drops on a per clone basis,” she adds.

Helping cannabis companies abroad

By sharing “what we have, we created friendships across the industry. By virtue of that, we had inbound queries from folks overseas who were looking for the same thing,” Merker reports. WeedMD is believed to be, per a 2018 article by The London Free Press, the first company in Canada to sell cannabis seeds abroad to Israel and Australia.

Secret sauce(s): Derek Pedro and an excellent genetic library

Despite the lack of starting material in the legal space, Pedro does not regard the genetic bottleneck as particularly concerning.

A pioneer in Canada’s cannabis space, “Pedro built the first ‘hybridized’ cannabis greenhouse in Canada, allowing growers to produce quality cannabis in a modified greenhouse setting. He again played a pivotal role by bringing 55 live strains and 25,550 seeds into the legal cannabis system,” Bloomberg reports.

At WeedMD, he has developed Pedro’s Wine Gums (now known as Pedro’s Sweet Sativa), a company best-seller. “I had a rocky relationship with my parents over cannabis. But now, it’s fun to be at home, with dad going like, ‘Oh look! They sold out of Pedro’s sweet sativa.’ For him to say that now… that, to me, is a victory.”

Another triumph is ensuring the product developed at the facility is consistent, an area in which Pedro is heavily involved.

In January 2019, the company, in partnership with BLOCKStrainTechnology Corp. (now known as TruTrace Technologies Inc.), signed a cannabis strain validation registration program, which enables customers to “trace strain origin and their CBD and/or THC content, along with other information, guaranteeing product assuredness,” Robert Galarza, CEO and director of TruTrace Technologies, says in a press release. WeedMD has now about “40 active strains in the genetics library,” delaBarrera adds.

Yet another milestone: Gender equality

As per the data provided by the company on May 1, 2019, the senior leadership team reporting directly to Merker is split quite evenly:

  1. Nichola Thompson, chief financial officer;
  2. Derek Pedro, chief cannabis officer;
  3. Josephine DesLauriers, senior vice president, People;
  4. Brett Moon, senior vice president, Sales and Marketing;
  5. Marianella delaBarrera, vice president, Communications and Corporate Affairs; and
  6. Alex Sibilev, vice president, Quality and Regulatory Compliance.

At the director level, “it’s 38 percent female; at the manager and supervisor level, it’s a 50 percent split. Altogether, the workforce is 51 percent male and 49 percent female,” says delaBarrera.

Having found the right mix, whether it’s with employees or research and development, Merker is confident about the future: “We’ve got the, ‘been there, done that’ box ticked off not just in respect to the human capital involved, but also the genetics that we will be growing here. When you pull that all together, we’ve got a compelling argument for a successful grow.”

e-mail icon Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Reddit icon
Rate this article: 
Article category: 
Regional Marijuana News: